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Sunday, June 7

Home is…

          On social media last week, I put out this phrase and asked for you to complete the sentence with what is true of your experience.  Yeah, I know, the first thing that comes to many of our minds is, “Home is where the heart is.”  But I wanted to know more about your experience of home.  As I read the responses, I noticed some themes…family was a big part of home for some of you…love and a sense of peace and belonging also resonated…one response that jived with my own perspective was that home is our sanctuary, a place where we go to get away from the world, from work, it is a place that protects us and allows us time to rest and relax.  Essentially, our responses reveal that for some of us, home is a place where we can relax and be ourselves, where we will experience love and a sense of belonging, where we know we can be who we are and we are accepted that way.

          Keep this in mind as we look at the gospel story of the day.  I added the short but very important phrase from verse 19, “Then Jesus went home.”  Everything that is happening in today’s story is happening in Jesus’ hometown…maybe not in his house, per se, but in a place that is familiar with and to Jesus.  But boy, Jesus has a much different experience of “home” than what many of us know.  Then again, I’m sure there are some of us who have had a more negative experience of home, an experience which made home a place to be avoided rather than sought out.  Jesus shows up in his hometown, the place where his family lives, where people watched him grow up and suddenly there is commotion and controversy and his own family is now trying to restrain him.

          Let me just orient you to the story as told by the writer of Mark.  We are not far into the story of Jesus’ ministry.  So far, Jesus has been traveling in the Galilee region…that is way north of Jerusalem, near the Sea of Galilee.  He has taught with authority in the synagogues, he has cast out demons and unclean spirits, he has been healing people and did so at least once on the Sabbath and he is gathering disciples.  To top that all off, he even forgave the sins of a paralytic man.  That would be controversial because in those days, only God forgives sins.  Between the forgiving of sins, the casting out of demons, the healing on the Sabbath and the authoritative teaching, Jesus was drawing attention…some were impressed AND some were not. Now at home, Jesus has finally encountered the opposition of those who are NOT impressed and who seem to be threatened and even angry.

          This is interesting…in Jesus’ home, a place that is supposed to be familiar, filled with people he loves, who know him and care about him, Jesus instead encounters criticism and opposition, even from his own family.  The crowds have heard of his teaching and healing, so they gather wherever he goes.  This raises eyebrows from the religious establishment because they didn’t train him and they don’t know what kind of instruction he has had.  It also concerns his family because he is drawing so much negative attention to himself.  So Jesus comes home to a family trying to reign him in a bit, to people saying he is crazy and to scribes from Jerusalem accusing him of being demonic.  It’s a shame, really, that Jesus can’t even relax and be accepted in his hometown.

          But there is reason.  The reason is that Jesus has another home, and it is called the kingdom of God.  Jesus was preaching that this home, this kingdom of God had come near…it had come into the world.  It was not a place so much as it was an experience of God’s presence, of God’s love and mercy.  Anyone who experienced it was at home with God…they were loved and accepted as they were.  Jesus was at home regardless of where he went because he always had the love and acceptance of God.  Jesus’ reason for coming was so that he could welcome everyone into this experience of being at home in God, and everyone was truly invited.

          The problem was that there were many in that society who felt “at home” with the way everything was set up…the healthy lived together, the sick were cast out…the rich did whatever they wanted, while the poor were left to fend for themselves…the laws and the rituals kept the righteous and unrighteous separated…the good people were set apart from the sinners.  Meanwhile, there were many people who did not feel at all “at home” in this life, not only were they suffering or struggling, but they were essentially cast away from God’s presence by those holding religious authority. 

          What Jesus was doing, which stirred up the trouble, was welcoming these lost people into God’s home…healing, freeing, forgiving.  In Jesus’ actions, the people saw a new opportunity for love and mercy and acceptance that welcomed everyone, that gave everyone a place, a chance to be at home in the presence of God. 

          Have you ever had the experience of being at a family gathering when a new person comes into the mix?  Someone’s boyfriend or fiancé or their kids or someone brings a neighbor or friend who doesn’t have local family?  Or maybe some of you have been on the other side, going into a group of friends or family who were at home with each other.  When that new person is inserted into the mix, there can sometimes be some discomfort.  And each family has to decide whether they will accept that person and make them feel at home as well, or whether that person will become an outcast, remain an outsider who will dread or completely avoid those gatherings in the future.

          Jesus was welcoming people that were not welcomed before, and some of the people, including the religious leaders from Jerusalem and Jesus’ own family were concerned that something was wrong.  Jesus’ family attempts to restrain him before he can do anything more; the scribes actually call him Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.  Keep this reaction in mind because it is amazing how even the most religious human beings can make false judgments and pronouncements about things that are good and that fall in line with what God is trying to do in the world.

          And that is what Jesus is addressing in verse 29.  This eternal sin that Jesus speaks about is this act of the scribes identifying the work of the kingdom of God as the work of Satan.  Although Jesus has spoken about the forgiveness of sins by this point, he is facing a real doozy in this encounter…people are actually seeing the work of God, which is making a massive positive impact on the lives of people who were once sick, bound or cast out but who are now healthy, free and included…and instead of seeing the kingdom of God come near, they call it the work of ruler of demons.  Can you see why Jesus would tell them that this sin would not be forgiven?  What a huge stumbling block to the witness of the works of the kingdom of God!

          But here is the point for us to think about today.  Our homes can absolutely be that place of love and acceptance and refuge after being caught up in a crazy, unforgiving world.  But sometimes we also expect our “home churches” to be that for us as well.  And certainly, it is important that we each experience the love and mercy and acceptance of God here in God’s house.  But this love and acceptance and refuge isn’t just for us, it is for everyone. 

          What do we do when something happens here that suddenly makes us feel uncomfortable or a little out-of-sync…like when we change the worship time, or when a new person comes in who is different from us, or when we get a new staff person or when we change our ministry focus or start a new ministry or when new ideas are presented or when we worship or have study outside of this property?  It is important that we never get too comfortable with the way things are, because we are a body through whom Christ is welcoming all kinds of people and when different people respond to that welcome, everything will change.

          The challenge to that openness to others is overcoming the tendency to make newcomers just like us and instead allow newcomers to be who they are, to even have an impact on us, allowing them to mold this fellowship as each of us molded it when we were welcomed in.  To be at home in God, God calls people into God’s presence so that all might be loved and accepted and accompanied by God into becoming who they are in Christ.  This should cause some upheaval in the regular ebb and flow of things.  But today we can also remember that upheaval is often a sure sign that God is somehow at work.  Amen.  

  

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